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Queer Joy And The Return Of NYC Nightlife

LadyFag is a New York City nightlife producer who has been a fixture on the scene for over a decade. Her legendary parties like Battle Hymn, Holy Mountain, and LadyLand are at the center of the queer club scene. In March 2020, LadyFag’s work came to an abrupt halt as the city went into lockdown. Now, as the New York after-hours scene re-emerges from its forced hiatus, nightlife comes back to life.

My party, Battle Hymn, was actually one of the first parties that shut down in New York. I remember calling a whole bunch of friends who are also promoters, saying “Are you guys going to close this weekend? What are we all doing?” I think everybody wasn’t really sure what they wanted to do. I decided to shut down my party, and it kind of set off a chain reaction for a lot of other nightlife events in the city.

All of the sudden, I went from throwing parties a few nights a week for 15 years to doing nothing.

The biggest change, really, was that it was so much quieter. In the beginning, when we didn’t really realize how long this was going to go on for, I was actually very happy to take a break. I went to bed earlier than I ever have in my life. I haven’t had sleep since I’ve lived in New York, so it was kind of nice to chill out a little bit. Eventually, though, the reality of the situation set in.

LadyFag at Battle Hymn. Photo: Dane Isaac.

In the nightlife industry, we often say it’s feast or famine. A lot of times this industry is week to week. You’re either working a lot or you’re working very little, but the pandemic was an entirely new level of famine. It was especially scary because we didn’t know how the industry might come out of this. No one was sure which clubs would be left standing, or if people would even want to go out after all this went away—could a pandemic change people in that way?

During the shutdown, I think everybody in the industry had these moments where they asked themselves “what am I going to do?” or “if nightlife doesn’t come back, what else could I do with my life?” I went dark for a second too. I had a few real moments where I thought “what am I gonna do with the rest of my life?” In the end, if the pandemic taught me anything, it’s that I’m a lifer.

There’s been a lot of attention on hospitality throughout the pandemic, but when people think of the hospitality industry, they often overlook nightlife. Nightlife is hospitality. Nightlife and restaurants go hand in hand. In fact, for a lot of people, working in nightlife is part of a natural progression to move into opening hotels and restaurants.

Photo: Dane Isaac.

At their heart, both restaurants and clubs center around creating environments and worlds for others. It’s your home, and you’re inviting people into it. At the same time, though, it’s not your home—it’s home for the people you’re inviting inside. You’re anticipating their needs and what might bring them joy. The whole point of a night out is to just forget about everything—to forget about the outside world. Hospitality is about creating a platform and a space for your vision, and bringing other people into that world.

As the entire hospitality industry begins to find its footing after lockdown, it’s clear there’s been this cultural reset, and you can feel it in big ways and in little ways. It made me think about things differently in how I run my business. One thing I’ve come to realize is especially important is inclusive queer joy, which is at the center of a lot of my work in nightlife.

I want to make sure there’s a place for everyone at my parties, because they have a bit of everything for everybody. It’s impossible, really, to explain exactly who comes or what kind of party it is because so many different types of people—and little subsections of New York—think it’s their party.

Photo: Dane Isaac.

In a lot of ways, lockdown really reminded me of pre-internet times, where, particularly for queer people, you had to go out and really search for likeminded people. You had to look for your people, and it was easy to feel really alone. The pandemic felt the same way—except with the internet. I had everybody at my fingertips, I could see what everyone was doing and talk to all my people, but it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t the same. I missed the joy of actually being in a nightclub more than anything.

Hospitality—meaning restaurants and nightclubs—will always be necessary. If everything’s going really well and you’re really happy, you want to go out and celebrate. Even in the worst of times—and that could mean on a personal level or not—if everything’s going to shit, you need to get out there and blow off some steam, drown your sorrows, and find solace in your friends.

Nightlife has always been a community center, a church, whatever you want to call it. It’s a place to bring people together and ground the community. I think many people in the restaurant industry are doing the same thing. They want to foster a community. You want people to come into your restaurant or to your club, and for it to feel like a second home to them.

I remember the first weekend we reopened. I think people felt weird. When you walked into the club for the first time since the lockdown, it felt strange in some ways. You felt nervous. But nightlife is primal. It’s inside you. You want to be with other people, and that’s your joy. You go to a restaurant, or you go to a club, to share experiences with other people, and humans have this capacity to forget pain. It’s amazing how fast they can bounce back and return to normal.

Nightlife as hospitality has always been something that’s needed, and it will always continue to be essential. People will always find a way to party.